Blue Landscape

lessons from the road of exile

Marc Chagall ~ Le Paysage Bleu, 1949

I was born for the deepest of friendships and the happiest of lifelong partnerships, but it did not happen that way. Where is the love of my life?

Marc Chagall’s wife and muse, Bella Rosenfeld, died suddenly in 1944 of a viral infection left untreated during a wartime shortage of medicine. The couple had just barely managed to escape from Russia to France, then again from France to America. But death caught up with them in New York City.

Chagall stopped painting for months after Bella’s death, but the resilient artist went on to memorialize her in his work. In a letter to a Paris paper after the city was liberated from the Nazis, Chagall wrote:

My enemy forced me to take the road of exile. On that tragic road, I lost my wife, the companion of my life, the woman who was my inspiration.

I feel the same way. Temperamentally I was destined for a life of love and intimacy, but my enemy forced me to take the road of exile. My enemy was not the Nazi regime, but a lone sexual predator of children, who just happened to move in right next door to my family.

Who can argue with fate? Why bother asking why anything happens the way it does? This morning, though, when I woke up I wondered why do I feel so blue today.

I’ve wondered that a lot throughout my life. There are medical answers. There are psychological answers. There are historical answers. There are spiritual answers. But today I just want to say, “because I miss my mate, the companion of my life.”

A friend who stopped by over the weekend had attended a Krishnamurti discussion group earlier in the day and left behind a printout. Yesterday I unfolded the piece of paper on my table and read:

It’s the emptiness that is essential, not what’s in the emptiness. There is seeing only from emptiness. All virtue, not social morality and respectability, springs from it. It’s out of this emptiness that love comes, otherwise it’s not love.

When I’ve tried to read Krishnamurti before, I couldn’t understand him. But this I understand. I know about the love that comes out of emptiness. I have touched the goodness inside of me that has nothing to do with social morality and respectability, and because I have been bad, and have been seen as bad by others, I know it is also inside everyone else (even those neo-Nazis). In being forced to take the road of exile, I was forced to learn from emptiness. Emptiness is another word for non-judgment, what I tried to express yesterday.

Shakespeare says the same thing in poetry (Sonnet 116):

Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

When I said good-bye to my therapist in 2001, after 4+ years of working with her, it was because I wanted to explore my spirituality. At the time I felt a deep conflict between the spiritual and the psychological routes to healing, which she didn’t seem able to help me resolve. I felt guilty for so much whining, for expressing so much grief. I thought maybe the power of positive thinking and tapping into divine love could heal me faster.

I spent the next 15 years deeply immersed in all kinds of study. I lived pretty much as a hermit for the last 7 of those years, until a sequence of family events unfolded which prompted me to call her again. I’d already met Bob, my inner therapist, and he had helped me to navigate a previous crisis, but this time I was in over my head, and I wanted human warmth, so I made a phone call. Her voice was just as warm and wonderful as I remembered it. We picked up right where we left off, exploring the intersection of my spirituality and my daily life.

Why the 15 year hiatus? Why ask why? It happened. I still wonder why Bob alone couldn’t help me, why I have chosen to invest my dwindling reserves on an expensive luxury. But the more I get into it, the more therapy does not really feel like a luxury. It feels like a necessity. I still don’t know if it will work, if I’ll be able to come out of my exile enough to enjoy human love. But it’s worth a shot. Chagall went on to paint again, and to love again. Why not me?

Left — Pour Vava, 1970 || Right — Vava Brodsky and Marc Chagall in 1967

To learn about the origins of my imaginary friend, inner therapist, and non-judgmental advisor, whom I like to call Bob, see Bob is a Zero, and How to Acquire a Bob. For my ongoing conversations with him, see the My Bob tag.